Being able to relate to and see ourselves in the characters from our favorite films is not a privilege everyone can enjoy. For a long time, authentic LGBTQ+ stories were not being told in meaningful ways in theaters. As time has gone on, more and more of these stories are being told on the big screen, but sometimes the “representation” we are being handed feels forced, or like it’s just there to gather media attention.
Disney’s latest live-action film, “Cruella,” came out at the end of last month. Headlines graced the internet patting Disney on the back for featuring its first openly gay film character. This is the seventh time Disney has boasted about achieving this milestone. “Onward” had a lesbian character, the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” rewrote LeFou as gay, and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” featured an onscreen lesbian kiss between two unnamed characters. All of these instances and more had news outlets rolling out the red carpet for Disney’s “first” LGBTQ+ character(s).
Social media backlash to these headlines for “Cruella” show that many members of the LGBTQ+ community are tired of being told they are getting queer characters or groundbreaking “firsts” without the films actually delivering. In the instance of “Cruella,” the film does not explicitly say that the character Artie (played by openly gay actor John McCrea) is gay. It is something Disney and the actor have confirmed outside of the film, without providing textual evidence.
Millions are looking for authentic onscreen representation — but we are not getting it by creating hollow “firsts” or shoehorning in representation where there was none before.
This is not to say there aren’t many fantastic recent films by and about the LGBTQ+ community. French lesbian filmmaker Céline Sciamma released “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), about the romance between two women in 1770s France. Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” about the life of a gay Black man, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017. “Port Authority” (2019), directed by Danielle Lessovitz, made history as the first film starring a transgender woman of color to play at Cannes Film Festival.
One way we can ensure more authentic LGBTQ+ films are made is by supporting them at every level. From blockbuster features to indie shorts to everything in between, if we throw our support behind the films made by and for the LGBTQ+ community, we stand a chance of seeing more made in the future, and maybe even having meaningful representation from major corporations like Disney.
This week’s crowdfunding picks include films by and about the LGBTQ+ community. Carolina Ratcliff’s “The Outing” features a young woman trying to come out to her family, but who is stymied when they all start coming out to her first. “June,” by Patrick Nguyen, is about a young Vietnamese woman trying to reconcile her sexuality with the religion she was raised in. Finally, “Sugar Beach,” directed by Noely Mendoza, follows highschooler Rosalyn as she enters a polyamorous relationship.
Here are Women and Hollywood’s latest crowdfunding picks.
Claire has a tough task ahead of her: coming out to her family. She plans a family vacation where she can tell them, but every time she gets close to doing it, someone else comes out first. “The Outing” is a short comedy about love, family, and how our own anxieties can lead to misunderstandings.
Director Carolina Ratcliff based the film around her own coming out story. “To my surprise, [my family] not only accepted me, they were happy that I was finally able to tell them,” says Ratcliff on Kickstarter. “Their responses to my coming out inspired me to change this story from one about shame and secrecy into one about misjudgment and truth.”
The short film “June” follows a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl as she tries to come to terms with her sexuality while being raised in a Catholic environment. It takes place over four Sundays in 2006, and sees June’s family attending church. When her pastor preaches about acceptance, June decides to come out to her family.
“Some of the discussions that are brought to the surface in my film are the ongoing conflict between sexuality and religion, acceptance and love, and of course, sexuality,” says writer-director Patrick Nguyen in the project’s Indiegogo campaign video.
Nguyen is particularly focused on telling LGBTQ+ stories from within the Asian community. “Sexuality isn’t something that is really talked about in the Asian community — if anything it is really avoided — and I think it’s a really important topic that needs to be discussed,” he said.
“Sugar Beach” is a feature film centered on Rosalyn, who, upon learning she has received a full athletic scholarship for college, decides to take it easy and enjoy her final year of high school. At a party, she is introduced to a couple, Emma and Issac, who both come on to her. Soon, Rosalyn finds herself in a polyamorous relationship with the duo.
Created by friends Zoe Manzotti and Noely Mendoza, the film seeks to explore drug and alcohol use, sexuality, and young love through its three main characters.
To be considered for Women and Hollywood’s biweekly crowdfunding feature, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. All formats (features, shorts, web series, etc.) welcome. Projects must be by and/or about women.